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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Egypt’s Christians deserve a democratic future too



The measure of a true democracy is not just how well it represents the will of the majority, but also by how effectively it safeguards the fundamental rights of minorities within the population. 
 
On the evidence of the past nine months, Egypt has been on course to fail this test with dangerous consequences. Some nine million of Egypt’s citizens, over 10 per cent of the population, are Christians. For them, the "Egyptian Spring" that began in February has not brought tangible benefits; if anything their situation, already severe before the revolution, has worsened.

Under President Hosni Mubarak, Christians suffered significant discrimination at both the state and the extra-judicial level. The right to build a church was dependent upon presidential decree; Muslim converts to Christianity found it impossible to obtain ID reflecting the fact; and discrimination against Christians in the public sphere was endemic. 
 
Unsurprisingly, Egypt’s Christians played a full and active role in the February revolution that forced President Mubarak from power. Amongst other notable acts, Christians established a field hospital to treat the wounded in Tahrir square and numerous images showed Muslims and Christians holding hands whilst chanting a common refrain of the revolution, “Muslims, Christians, we are all Egyptians”.

In spite of this, however, the solidarity of Egypt’s Christians with their fellow citizens has not been rewarded. Sources inside the country report that discrimination against Christian children, often by their own teachers, carries on unchecked. Getting a good job as a Christian in the workplace is still as hard as ever. It remains impossible to build a church legally, and converts to Christianity still cannot obtain legal recognition of that fact.

And this is not the end of the story. So high is anti-Christian feeling running in the new Egypt that twice in the past six months, clashes have taken place which have left scores of Christians dead. Worse is the fact that this violence is not merely sectarianism gone mad, still less the subversive influence of "foreign agents", as the authorities in Egypt so frequently claim. There is very good evidence to suggest that state security forces have not just been negligent in their handling of Christian protests, but have actually been engaged in bloodletting themselves. Unlike with the most recent round of Egyptian protests, however, this violence elicited no apology from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), still less any promises to reform.



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